Geographically, the states of Washington and Florida couldn’t be further apart. However, regarding legal sports betting, the two states are as close as possible.
Both states wanted to enact sports betting that gave a near-monopoly to their Native American tribes. Furthermore, both states face legal battles after non-tribal entities were unhappy with the market’s structure.
But a federal judge threw the Washington sports betting lawsuit out of court just a few days ago. The move gives hope to those hoping to see a similar result in the Florida sports betting suit.
Similarities between Washington and Florida sports betting markets
In March 2020, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation that legalized retail and online sports betting. But only through the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes.
The tribes were allowed to build brick-and-mortar sportsbooks at their casinos. Tribes also launched online sportsbooks. However, bettors can only place online wagers while on tribal land.
By contrast, Florida legalized sports betting through a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. The new 30-year agreement gave the tribe exclusivity over online betting. And near total control over the brick-and-mortar industry.
Any pari-mutuel that built a retail sportsbook must do so as a contracted vendor of the tribe. Thus, the pari-mutuels would be forced to give 40% of gross sports betting revenue to the Seminoles.
But when it came to online betting, the agreement allowed Floridians to wager online with the tribe from anywhere in the state.
Lawsuits contained even more similarities
Non-tribal gaming entities in both states weren’t happy about the sports betting models.
Maverick Gaming owns 22 cardrooms in the Evergreen State. None of them were eligible to offer sports betting.
In January 2022, Maverick filed a lawsuit alleging that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland violated federal law by allowing Washington to create a “discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly” for the state’s sports betting market.
In Florida, West Flagler Associates owns a pair of pari-mutuel facilities. Under the new gaming compact, neither Magic City Casino or Bonita Springs Poker Room could offer sports betting without tribal Seminole involvement.
Like Maverick, West Flagler also filed a federal lawsuit against Haaland. The argument was nearly identical. Haaland shouldn’t have approved the compact.
At the end of November 2021, a federal judge agreed with West Flagler. Judge Dabney Friedrich said the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. As a result, she invalidated the compact and shuttered the briefly launched sports betting market.
On the other hand, the Washington case took a much different turn. U.S. District Court Judge David Estudillo dismissed Maverick’s case altogether. Maverick CEO Eric Persson told Legal Sports Report that his company would appeal the decision.
Tribal involvement caused dismissal
In both lawsuits, neither plaintiff listed the tribes as a defendant.
In Florida, the Seminole Tribe filed a motion for limited intervention at the district court level. Friedrich denied the request.
On the west coast, the Shoalwater Bay Tribe filed a similar motion. Unlike Friedrich, Estudillo granted the tribe’s request. Consequently, the tribe filed a motion to dismiss for failure to join a required party.
Since the tribe is sovereign, they are shielded from lawsuits they don’t consent to. Therefore, Estudillo dismissed the case.
Maverick argued the federal government could represent the tribe’s interest since they were fighting for the same outcome. It’s the same argument West Flagler made against Seminole involvement.
But Friedrich agreed with West Flagler, while Estudillo agreed with the Washington tribe.
Seminoles continue to fight for limited intervention with appellate court
After Friedrich ruled against the DOI, the federal government appealed the decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals. The Seminole Tribe filed the same motion with the appellate court that it did with the district court.
The Seminole Tribe wants to be involved for the same reason the Shoalwater Bay Tribe did. If they can prove they are a necessary party to the lawsuit, it’s almost certain that the court will dismiss the case.
Estudillo’s decision in Washington proves Friedrich’s decision isn’t necessarily the norm. It gives the Seminole Tribe more hope to be granted involvement by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Moreover, it gives the Seminole Tribe two ways to get their desired outcome.
Either the three-judge panel will allow them to intervene and likely get the case tossed. Or the court can overturn Friedrich’s ruling based on the federal government’s arguments alone.
If either happens, the court would reinstate the 2021 Florida gaming compact, and the tribe could relaunch its online sportsbook immediately.